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60 Stories - Elisa Ferguson

Elisa Ferguson 

On Thursday, November 13, people around the globe will celebrate World Kindness Day. ENABLE Scotland will mark the event by celebrating the contribution of some of the people in our organisation whose kindness knows no bounds.

When Elisa Ferguson joined ENABLE Scotland at the tender age of 13, she could never have predicted that what started out as a stint of volunteering, would weave its way through her daily life and her future. 

Currently in her 40th year of service to the organisation, she has not only dedicated her life to people who have learning disabilities, she has built it around them. Through her involvement with the Stirling branch, she met her husband, started a family, took a job in the learning disabilities sector and became a grandmother.

By any standards, that’s a successful sweep for someone who initially set out to gain one thing and one thing alone. A Girl Guide badge. 

“I had just turned 13 and I was a member of my local church fellowship. The chair of the Stirling branch at the time had come along looking for volunteers and because I was also in the Guides, I thought I would do it to get myself a new badge. 

“Well I loved it and that was that. I never went back to Guides and I never got the badge!”

Unlike the many volunteers, campaigners and other devoted staff members who have been inspired to become involved with ENABLE Scotland through a personal connection to someone, Elisa had never met anyone with a learning disability. While she may not have earned her Guide’s badge, she believes that what she did receive was worth so much more. 

“Everyone was so welcoming. There was an elderly man named George who was so nice to me and showed me around. It wasn’t until two or three weeks later that I realised he was actually one of the members. As young as I was, that really opened my eyes to how I had expected people with learning disabilities to be a certain way and actually, they were nothing like that.

“I found it so humbling and quite amazing. They were just the nicest people I had ever met and although I was there to help them, they always wanted to help me too if I wasn’t sure of something. I loved being around them and I couldn’t wait to go back each week.” 

The Friday night club of 10-15 members was originally held in a tiny local theatre but by the time Elisa reached her late teens, growing numbers meant that the branch had to relocate. The club moved to a small centre at Cambusbarron and it was there that she caught the eye of young Boy’s Brigader Sandy Ferguson.

“The Boy’s Brigade was held in the same building on the same night and after it finished, Sandy used to pop through to the club and see me. After a while, we started going out and it wasn’t long before he joined as a volunteer too.”

But Elisa recalls that their blossoming romance made her rather unpopular with one of the club’s members. 

“There was lady there called Mary who really adored Sandy. When she realised I was his girlfriend she decided she wasn’t happy about it and went in the huff with me. I was quite worried about that for a while because she wouldn’t speak to me. 

“She was there when we got married and when I came out the church and saw her I thought ‘Oh dear, she’s going to say something and give me a row!’ But she just gave me a big cuddle and after that she became my pal.”

Elisa and Sandy decided to start their family soon after they were married and the arrival of two young Fergusons resulted in Elisa having to take her first unwilling break from the club in more than 15 years. 

“I managed to keep going after my eldest son Kenneth was born, but I had to take some time off when my youngest Andrew came along because he would cry whenever I left him. I really missed all the members during that time. I remember felling really resentful and jealous when Sandy used to skip out the door to the club every Friday night when I was stuck in the house. I wasn’t amused at all! 
“Eventually I couldn’t stand not being there anymore so we got my parents or Sandy’s parents to come round and babysit. We’d put Andrew in front of the telly and as soon as he was distracted, I’d sneak out the door and run down to the club!”

As the boys grew older, Elisa and Sandy often took them along to the club to join in with the activities and outings and Mary thoroughly enjoyed her role as their self-appointed surrogate Auntie.

“Mary had decided she would be ‘Auntie Mary’ as soon as they were born. She loved to see them and they loved to spend time with her.

“Every year without fail, she gave each of them a chocolate orange at Christmas and she carried on doing that for 30 years until she passed away. By that time the boys were grown men, but they really missed not getting their chocolate orange the first Christmas after she died. It had become such a tradition.” 

Elisa’s dedication to the Stirling branch has never waned over the years. As she grew from a girl to a woman, reaching the conventional milestones of her own life by leaving school, working, getting married and having children, she always continued to be a committed member of the branch, lovingly contributing to its development and expansion as it too has grown, from its small and humble beginnings into a lively hub of activity with a membership list of over 80. 

“I’m very proud of our club. We moved to new premises at the Riverbank Centre in 2013 and because the building also serves as the adult day centre, it has the most wonderful facilities and is well-equipped to meet all our needs. 

“Our members are aged from 18 upwards and few of them have been there as long as I have. They all love to come along and we have wonderful times. We do arts and crafts, play WII, have a karaoke, a dance area and lots of other different things. We have barbeques, go out on trips and do activities as often as we can too. They especially enjoy going bowling!”

But it’s not just the members who have benefitted from attending the club and Elisa recalls that it was during one of the much-loved bowling trips that a second romantic encounter occurred for the Ferguson family - when their eldest son Kenneth met his wife Leanne. 

“Kevin was about 20 at the time and I had asked him to come along and help with a bowling trip one night. Leanne was my friend’s daughter and she had been volunteering with us. They just hit it off. 

“They have been married for 10 years now and have two lovely little girls, so I suppose you could say the club has been a bit of a match-maker for us!”

Elisa Ferguson’s passion for the club and its members is evident in the way that it has become ingrained in her everyday life. Not only has she been co-running the club for the past 10 years - she also works as an administrator at the Riverbank day centre for people who have learning disabilities, while Sandy is the current chair of the Stirling branch and works as a support worker in the ENABLE assisted-living houses. 

It’s hard to determine where her personal life ends and her role within the club begins but by her own admission, Elisa rarely considers there to be a gap between the two. 

“The reason it has become such a huge part of my life and that I have never been able to stay away is simply because I love the people - both those that I work with and the members too. It is a wonderful environment to be in and seeing them all so happy makes me happy. 

“There are so many different characters but each and every one of them is fantastic to me. We really are just like one big family.” 

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